Friday, March 27, 2009

Tail-Swinging Syncopation

We interrupt Loo's train of posts for this important message...

I've been spying a number of posts recently on various fora regarding syncopation. "What's synchopation?" is the 800-pound Gorilla of commonly-asked-questions during my workshops, be they dancers or drummers. It's a question of 'nightmare' potential; capable of bogging a session down more quickly than a trench of congealing custard can a long-haired cat.

The ideal answer has to be quick, cover most of the bases, imaginative, and humourous - so that I can get back on track. It wasn't easy until I came across this post on Garrit Fleischmann's excellent Cyber-Tango and I've been using it for more than ten years:


Date: Thu, 14 May 1998 10:20:20 -0700
From: Bruss Bowman
Subject: Rhythm, syncopation and some humor:

Rhythm, syncopation and some humor:

Syncopation as it relates to music can be defined as a variation of rhythm by placing emphasis or accent on a rest or silent beat

As it relates to dance this would mean 'stepping' on a rest or silent beat.

There are two dynamics that can be syncopated:
  1. The music
  2. The dance
This leads to 4 possible combinations.

In the order of difficulty to execute in a dance:
  • A regular musical rhythm that is not syncopated by either of the dancers (aka walking on the beat)
  • A regular musical rhythm that is syncopated by one or more of the dancers
  • Musical rhythm syncopation that is not itself syncopated by one or more of the dancers ( ie dancers are following the musical syncopation )
  • Musical rhythm syncopation with that is syncopated by one or more of the dancers ( ie dancers are syncopating the musical syncopation. )
Musical examples:

Example of regular musical rhythms: DiSarli's "El Pollito"

Example of musically syncopated rhythms: Pugliese's "Gallo Ciego"

There is a reason that most good teachers will choose DiSarli as the music of choice for classes and that they don't choose Pugliese. DiSarli is definitely easier to dance to ( Syncopated or not ). Although dancing to Pugliese offers a much richer experience but it requires a higher degree of musical sensitivity not to mention a lot of intensity.

Dancing Examples:

Example of a non-syncopacted(sic) dancer:
My vote would go to GodZilla. Being a genetic mutant he is physiologically incapable of syncopation. When he invades Tokyo you hear

Thump, Thump, Thump, Thump


Thump, Thumpity Thumpity, Thump.

Also due to his small brain size he is notorious for stepping back in the line of dance usually stomping some poor unsuspecting couple. And I won't even mention that tail thing.

Example of a syncopated dancer:
Omar Vega ( I'm serious now! ) For those who haven't seen Omar dance his style is HIGHLY syncopated and beautiful to watch. He is currently on a teaching tour in the U.S. and if you have a chance to see him I would definitely recommend it.

We can take these dancing examples and come up with a dance floor rating system. Let's call it the "ZILLA-METER"

As you enter a Milonga take an inventory of the leaders present and categorize them as either being more like Godzilla or more like Omar Vega. Then take the resulting numbers and divide the number of Zillas by the number of Vegas. This will give you the "ZILLA-METER" rating.

Use the following chart to rate your dance floor

Zilla Rating Description
0 - 0.1 This is the dance floor of your dreams. Let me know if you find a floor like this !!!
0.1-0.3 Excellent floor. Although you do have a small chance of getting stepped on.
0.4-0.6 Moderately dangerous floor. Too many Zillas for general comfort.
0.7-1 Floor's pretty dangerous. Not safe for small children.
> 1 Thump, Thump, Thump.........Ahhhhhhhhhhh
Best Regards,

Reproduced with permission.
All Rights Acknowledged.

Bruss is a genius.

©Copyright 2009 Gen Kanai. All Rights Acknowledged.

Since then, I've been using Godzilla as an example of a non-syncopating beast: Thump, Thump, Thump, Thump (with the occasional roar). If he/she were syncopating, we would sometimes hear "Thump, Thumpity Thumpity, Thump" as we were running away.

My impressions of Godzilla doing the soft-shoe shuffle on his/her way through downtown Tokyo have yet to make it to YouTube.



Wednesday, March 25, 2009

An Exigeant Vision

Exigency is a good word - that combination of need and urgency, that mad glint in the eye of someone who's been bitten by the bug. I've seen it a thousand times; witnessed how it stokes in its bearer the must to be equipped for the social space of liberation that is the dance floor.

The exigent vision is one of Preparation. "I have to be ready! What do I need?"

Moves, combinations, timing, lead, follow, styling, more styles, shoes... smile!

For these souls, the pressure of the beginning is relentless. And even when it starts to diminish during the ascent up the evolutionary slopes, the view to the summit remains the same - the vision, no longer exigeant, nevertheless remaining one of Preparation.

I see it as I take a mysterious partner's hand. She's exquisitely prepared, but she's not there. I recognise the setups from a local school; flawless pivot technique from an LA DVD; arm styling of a World Champion; a sensuous neckroll from a lambada class; smooth rhythmic interpretation brought from the East Coast; sinuous Duplessey-like hips, and wonderful smile that barely touches her eyes...

Because she's too busy being ready. And she has been since she started. I'd know the same too, of mysterious men, if I'd been her and known to look.

Perhaps you've made out my artifice - where a narrator assumes a mantle of dominance by referring to the Other as fragments. It's the same trick used in the songs we dance to: "Magia de tus besos" [The magic of your kisses] by Grupo Niche and "Esos Tus Ojos Negros" [Those dark eyes of yours] by Pete "El Conde" Rodríguez.

I'm embracing a collage of beauty: a collection of pieces of a perfect partner. And I have yet no inkling who she is; only the narrators she's chosen to take from. The Exigent Vision leaves us, women and men equally, submissive to Preparation.

And what of a vision of Identity where we ask, "Who am I? What do I need to be me?"

When do we decide to knit the fragments into a whole and speak our own narrative?

Who knows of the difference, and that a choice can be made?

"The young have no time for philosophy, the elderly have no time for anything but philosophy" says Joe, friend and one-time DJ and conguero, paraphrasing from a classical thinker. He expresses it to his students as, "the young are concerned with the techniques, the old are concerned only with content". Joe's interpretation reveals the relationship of 'philosophy' as content; and 'elderly' as maturity in our modern times.

In this instance I would express,

"The young have no time for philosophy, the elderly have no time for anything but philosophy";


"The young pursue every means to be ready, the mature seek to be clear about who they are".

I spoke earlier of the tension between Identity and Preparation, and of taking the Experience of it dancing (see A Vision Statement). Before then, I'd not been effective in articulating to myself the reasons why, on solely altruistic dance grounds, some people would prefer to share a dance with certain others. Vision is part of the answer.

Dance is informed by Music in the most unexpected of ways.

Yeo Loo Yen

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Vision Statement

Practice times for me aren't given up easily. As instructor, student and former competitor, I appreciate full-well the value of high-quality practice as the life-blood of expertise. Yesterday I did just that because, sometimes, there are things that are more important.

Since Laloma's founding a question has hung unanswered, "How is Conjunto Laloma different from 4 de Diciembre?" It's to be expected really, since the five of us: Ana (bass, vocals), Catie (flutes), Jan (violin), Jeremy (tres, vocals) and myself (guitar, vocals) have been, or are still, members of 4de12. Thinking on it, I've got a pretty good bead on how the question came about.

{ Fade back to the past... }

When we started mid-November last year, I was absorbed in the mechanics of resolving scheduling conflicts, constructing a skills and repertoire development programme for the group, and personally coming to grips with an unfamiliar instrument. My background as an educator unabashedly informed the planning; a key concept of which was the quickest route to the State of Independence (see 'Teaching & Salsa').

I defined the State of Independence for Conjunto Laloma as being a short set of six numbers to performance standard; the idea being that there would be enough variety for the practice sessions, substance for a slot at festivals, and context to acquire a strong feel for Cuban music. The provisional songs were to be: Yo soy el sonero, Tributo al son, El tambor, Chan Chan, El carretero, and Monton de estrellas. With all of them having been played by Cuatro de Diciembre at some point in the past, and the first three currently on its playlist, getting to independence would have taken maybe eight weeks.

Luckily there came Christmas.

The break, as it turns out, through creativity and practice in an alternate context (see previous salsa blog posts), harboured the perfect conditions for stimulating a rethink.

Things began as an imperfect enthusiasm on the guitar - where although everything felt alright going through the guajeos of each song, it felt just... well... alright. It wasn't like, "hey! I'm really fired up about playing and learning new stuff!" Inspiration is a more vital key to learning than the State of Independence. It stood to reason that the latter had been built on an unsafe premise, and that I needed to pierce its veil for there to be life in the project long-term.

What is more, I kept finding myself drawn to songs not on the immediate shortlist: Son de la Loma and Lágrimas negras by Trío Matamoros; and Ya lo sé by Calle Real. I was snagged by an uncomfortable doubt: "Was it me being a spoilt brat?" "Was I reaching out for somethings else because they were new and shiny, and putting my wants ahead of the band's needs?"

The subconscious always has something valuable to say, be it softly spoken. I took care to listen.

I thought about the songs that had me intrigued. Why were they such Sirens? It was then that I realised my mistake, it was Thought. The three of them spoke of the Feel of Laloma in all of fresh spring-water's clarity: the State of Independence should have been about Identity, not Preparation. It should have been the answer to, "What is the most compact collection of songs capable of expressing, to the listener, the Essence of Laloma?"

{ Fade to the present }

I have it now... six songs to answer that question. That's why I forwent a valuable practice session so as to share this vision with my bandmates: Chan Chan (Buena Vista Social Club); Lágrimas Negras (Trio Matamoros); Ya Lo Sé (Calle Real); Monton de Estrellas (Polo Montañez); Son de la Loma (Trio Matamoros); and American Sueño (La Excelencia). Actually, I went a bit beyond that the minimum and projected down the line to a possible 14 songs.

The guys I play with are good, very good. And they're motivated self-starters who perform best with more information, not less. I selected cover versions over our originals for the opportunity to learn from the artistry of others; it was something that Ana particularly felt strong about. Originals are a sure way of establishing an unique identity, but I feel that having to reinterpret those beautiful covers as a charanga-based acoustic line-up will, nonetheless, go a long way to doing that.

They're all on board. Jan spoke for us all when he said that he liked the whole collection, albeit more than others. He's honest to a fault, which is something I'd like to believe we all have in common.

Experience of the tension between Identity and Preparation has been valuable to me in many more ways than one. I took it dancing the other night and watched it move about the hall. But that, I'll leave until the next post. In the meanwhile, a truer vision has already done what it was meant to - chart a more enchanting course with a surer hand.

Some sacrifices were meant to be made.

Loo Yen

Monday, March 16, 2009

La Excelencia's Fundamento

I think you could forgive me for being a mite dubious when a newsletter plopped itself on my electronic doorstep, proclaiming that "Mi Tumbao Social" was going to be the best salsa release of 2009. January wasn't even halfway done with itself yet!

I harrumphed like a disdainful elephant, eyeing skeptically the etchings in the 'Source of All Temptations' as delivered by Bruce Polin and the guys at Descarga. This particular review had been written by Pablo Yglesias, whose tastes I'd not had enough of a handle on yet (mine generally agree with Bruce's and agree-to-disagree with Peter Watrous').

Nevertheless, still delirious from my Epicurean success in a Szechuan restaurant involving "Strange Tasting Rabbit", I charged at the red rag and added La Excelencia's second album to my shopping cart. Then I forgot all about it until it surprised me out of the package three weeks after.

©Copyright 2009 La Excelencia. All Rights Acknowledged.

"Let's do this!" I thought to myself as I hit the play button on my iPOD. It was the shortest journey home I'd had in a long, long time; so absorbed was I in the music.

Straight off the bat I knew that La Excelencia had used old-school recording styles: I'd had to fiddle more than usual to get a suitable volume setting, which meant that they'd used less compression in the production. Put another way, their sounds were more dynamic i.e. greater distance between softs and louds: where softs were properly softer, and louds were loud. In the first passes, I listened simply to the melody, rhythm and arrangements, utterly captivated. My ears had to be prised away to give the lyrics their due attention, but they were delighted to have been made to yield. At last here were lyrics of true substance.

During Cuatro de Dicembre practice that night, I put it on the stereo and we listened to it all. Actually we played along to it all... the whole CD; and we did it again the next week. This was the first time every one of us loved everything on an album, and given how diverse Decemberists are in taste and background, it's a miracle.

It's been a month and the dial still returns to "Mi Tumbao Social" after sojourns with recent releases.

La Excelencia's approach is evocative of the early age of Fania - a time when salsa musicians were impassioned with creative hunger. You can hear their youth in every stroke, their drive, their passion. I'm entirely seduced by their artistic integrity - every cut on the album was written in fulfillment of a creative need, not with an eye to sales (that's what all of 4de12 picked up on). Ironically this may prove, distribution willing, to be its unintended advantage.

When Spanish Harlem Orchestra debuted, the refreshing manner with which their tracks were selected and recorded, in part stimulated a resurgence of salsa dura. "Mi Tumbao Social" has the same potential to inspire a return to the core values that made salsa relevant: social commentary that the listener can relate to, from the chirpy "Deja de Criticar" to the darkly profound "American Sueño". And speaking of it, the latter is an object lesson in how to take a traditional Cuban form like the güajira and transform it into a resident of perhaps New York City.

La Excelencia haven't shied away from their African roots, instead they've actively embraced them. The way they use the skins tells the listener that this band aren't in the business of paying formulaic lip-service to percussion; and yet their poise is perfectly counterpointed by brass whose brashness follow in the best of New York's traditions. Every cut's a winner and "Mi Tumbao Social" is a now permanent member of my DJ collection.

I would normally sum up now, but I think La Excelencia have done it better with "Aña Pa' Mi Tambor": the sentiment, the composition, the execution, are all right on the mark.

Listen to it. You'll understand.

Loo Yeo

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Boogaloo by José María Bustos. (Part 2)


During the early sixties there was any number of influences on the music of the time (no pun intended). But the most significant (or so I believe) was the advancement of Black America and the black power movement. With this evolution of black America came the motto, ‘say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud’. And through out Black Harlem and Spanish Harlem there was this new sense of power which was fueled by white and many black Americans awaking to the great contributions by Black American writers, artists, dancers, scientist and the power they had in numbers.

At this moment in American history the ties between Black Americans and Latino Americans was perhaps one of the strongest ever, as we all had a common enemy which could just simply be summoned up as ‘the man’. Latino American’s with their afro Cuban roots felt compelled by black causes and thus there was a large cultural exchange.

In places like Smalls café in Harlem and well as on campuses of universities such as Penn state and other universities with large black populations pledge groups like ‘The Featherman’ were enjoying unprecedented numbers and part of the pledge groups activities were dance sessions and parties were the ‘call backs’ were created almost like marching chants. It’s in my sneaker! Oh yeah! A bag of reefer! Oh yeah! It’s in my nose! Oh yeah! Some gypsy rose! Oh yeah! Its on the roof, Oh yeah! 100% proof, oh yeah! And on and on……

So, these ‘call back’s found their way into the ‘Smalls’ of Harlem and also into the cellar clubs, which were popular at the time, these were just a cleaned out cellar in an old tenement building with a few colored lights and a bar. Once such notable club was run by a then young and extremely attractive upper class black women from the affluent queens neighborhood known as Saint Albans, her name was Betty White. Her cellar club on the west side on New York City became one of the most popular of the time and all night long the then new dance crazes of the black community were danced in frenzy. Dances such as the ‘Boogaloo’ and its sister dance called the ‘Shing Ga Ling’ while the entire group shouted out the call backs with Betty leading the cheers. Often times these dances were executed in the form of a line dance.

A side note to this is that the incredibly beautiful Betty White soon became Mrs. Miles Davis!

I think its also important to mention that popular black music of the time was being listened to throughout the Eastern Sea Board from a then young, NYC DJ named Frankie Crocker on station WWRL from Harlem NY who coined the term “sock it to me” and used some of these call backs during his sessions on the radio.

To bring it all back to salsa music, many of us who at the time enjoyed the best of both the black community and the Latin community discovered that the “call backs” and line dancing lent themselves strongly to a cha cha beat, so it was only natural that at the regular weekend parties at the Embassy ballroom where Joe Cuba played quite regularly and Basin street East where Richie Ray played regularly the “call backs and the line dancing” worked their way onto the dance floor. Joe Cuba was perhaps the first to pick up on it and begin to incorporate the beat and the calls backs into his music i.e. 'Oh! Yeah!' From the album ‘Bang Bang, Push Push'.

Post Joe Cuba’s boogaloo perhaps the second most successful band at the time to play Boogaloo was Ricardo Ray.

But there was a group of young and upcoming musicians such as Johnny Colón (who was at the time dating my sister) and a young neighborhood rebel who was trying his hand at the salsa thing named Joe Bataan who would soon make their mark on boogaloo forever.

- Copyright©2009 José María Bustos. All rights reserved.

[The ideas and opinions expressed above remain solely those of the author.]

Preface: The Boogaloo. José María Bustos. (Part 1)

DJ Bosco is THE purple patch
at the Singapore International Salsa Festival

©Copyright 2008
José María Bustos. All Rights Acknowledged.

A long-distance partner-in-crime, more affectionately known as Bosco, messaged me just the other day. Technology was having him in a Half-Nelson and keeping him from posting up an article he'd put together on the boogaloo. I tagged-teamed him right back listing a number of break-holds that he might deploy to counter the PC of Inestimable Evil; one of which was an offer to post the article here in salsadiary on his behalf. Bosco went for it, escaped, and quickly made off to Langkawi for a gig.

So this is it. My promise to him.

But instead of putting it up 'cold', I felt that it would only be right to put a preface it. I don't often put up articles from other people ...come to think of it, this would be the first external contribution to this salsa blog. But somehow it's appropriate that it should come from Bosco.

Bosco and I were introduced to each other in a professional setting several years ago; we were both qualifying a promising business opportunity while I was back in Singapore on Verdant's behalf. At the close of our very first meeting, it transpired that we had something very deeply in common - our need for salsa. Our families have gone on to become good friends.

And since time, in his guise as DJ Bosco, José María has established himself as THE leading killer on the decks of the Asian salsa scene.

I don't say that lightly - I enjoy his choice of music as much as I have that of Henry Knowles or Mauricio Reyes. I'd wager that much of that sensitivity is drawn from his experience as a participant observer during salsa's golden era in New York, an asset few DJs worldwide can have claim to.

On that last count, I'll let a selection of excerpts from his biography do the talking:

"He was also a member of... the ‘Copacetic Dragons’ of which Boogaloo band leader, ‘Joe Bataan’ was a starting member of the senior division known only as ‘The Dragons’. His sister was dating an up and coming salsa trombonist known as ‘Johnny Colon’ and DJ Bosco was busy lending support to his neighborhood friend George Rodriquez (vibes), Eddie Muniz (percussion) and the late Luis Bonilla (congas) who were starting a group they called ‘The New Swing Sextet’ which is still one of his favorite bands today and recently released a killer album.

"At the age of twelve DJ Bosco talked his way into a Salsa Sunday afternoon dance hall party at Colgate Gardens by convincing the legendary Barry Rogers (of Eddie Palmieri band fame) to allow him to carry his trombone into the dance hall.

"By the age of 16 DJ Bosco was a regular at all of New York’s dance halls such as the Embassy Ballrooms, The Palladium, Basin Street East (which featured Richie Ray and Orchestra Broadway) as well as The Hunts Point Place, the club where the top musicians would go after hours (beginning at 3 a.m.) for impromptu jam sessions from which the Allegre All Stars emerged, and eventually evolved into the Fania All Stars.

"...he befriended one of the great Latin Jazz Giants and his brother - Gerry and Andy Gonzales of Fort Apache Band fame and who have gone on to play with many of the great bands of the times.

"DJ Bosco believes much of his popularity is do to these early experiences, understanding, memories and friendships with many of the top musicians of that time"

- Copyright©2008 José María Bustos. All rights reserved.

Spending time with José María is a joy, whose vivid recollections of THE iconic era are an invaluable window through time - all brought to life by his music. Bosco, with or without his DJ hat on, is an artist, a gentleman and a scholar.

Bosco> There goes all your street cred with that last line, 'mano!

(On to Part Two.)

Loo Yen

Monday, March 09, 2009

7th March 2009 Los Van Van @The Roundhouse, London

When I heard that Los Van Van were coming to play again in the UK, I gritted my teeth in determination. The last time they were here was to promote "Chapeando" two years ago and although I'd already bought tickets, an urgent trip to the Far East conspired to make my first attempt an abortive one.

With a pair of tickets waiting in my hand for their Arrasando tour, the days in the weeks leading up to last Saturday felt like life lived beneath the Sword of Damocles. It was the strangest tincture of anticipation and dread. So as White Lights blazed onto stage searing away the echoing words "Los Van Van...", it felt as though something had finally been put right; an awkward picture-frame straightened.

Los Van Van opening with "Arrasando"

It was clear from the recording that the title track had been written 'to purpose' as an opening number; and true enough, they opened up with "Arrasando" with the vocalists last to take to stage. This incarnation of Los Van Van featured the four lead vocals; two keyboards; three on tromobones, two of whom also doubled up on midi keyboards; bass; violin; flute; güiro plus backing vocals; congas; and bandleader Samuel Formell on trapset plus timbales. It was essentially the same setup as that most artfully captured in the "Aquí el que baila gana - in concierto" DVD recorded at the Karl Marx Theatre sans the stellar guest appearances, and the disappointing omission of Juan Formell. Mind you, he wasn't here last time either and I can only infer that either he's not too keen on these shores, or that these shores aren't too keen on 'im.

They were on for a good two hours and blew through a good deal of their new album, though sadly not the tracks I was more partial to. I recall only their nod to the Manhattan Transfer "Timpop con Birdland", Yenisel's remarkably interpreted "Después de todo", a favourite "Anda, ven y quiéreme", and their single encore "Esto te pone la cabeza mala" as hailing from previous recordings.

I wanted so desperately to be blown away, and was as desperately disappointed. I wanted to believe that this supergroup, whose influence has defined the music of two generations, could do no wrong. I got something worse than wrong, I got lacklustre with snatches of brilliance. And I'm very sad for it.

Some were giving it their all - Samuel on drums was a demon possessed; and Mayito.., the incredible Mayito sang as if the very Heavens demanded it of him. The rest, well, gave only what they were willing to give. In an ironic sense, it was reassuring to me. As a performer I have always given a hundred percent to an audience and would expect no less of myself and my colleagues, getting a trifle mardy when they don't. That some elements of Los Van Van chose not to commit themselves fully, emotionally, showed that it could happen in even the best.

Van Van's incomplete emotional engagement was brought into sharp relief completely by chance through the dancing of one very talented man - Lázaro Lopez of Invited on stage as a guest, he gifted us all with a startling display of rumba columbia as the physical expression of Mayito's singing and Samuel's drumming. It was a moment of pure, synchronised, perfect intent which will forever be a treasured memory. That he did this in a swish gray suit, intentionally or otherwise, was a semiotic comment which set the sociologist in me chuckling.

That Los Van Van are amongst the hardest-practicing and best-drilled of bands ever to emerge from Cuba, is entirely believable. That events transpired to affect their performance such that many of them had to rely solely upon their consistency, is entirely plausible. After all, it could be that the acoustics of the Roundhouse affected their foldback, definitely it did the atmosphere and perhaps the charge from audience that every performer feeds off.

[I had with me two friends whom between them share more than five decades of professional experience in vibro-acoustics. Both of them independently remarked about the degree of sonic 'smearing' due to uncontrolled reflections in the venue.]

Yenisel told the audience that this is the band's fortieth year in existence; no mean feat in itself, let alone remembering that much of this time was spent at the top. But I sense that the band is wrestling with its state of transition: from the loss of its old guard like César Pedroso, Pedrito Calvo, Jose Luis Quintana; the transfer of leadership from father to son Formell; re-negotiating its identity; and struggling with its relevance to modern musical life.

With the latter, it seems as if the young turks of Maikel Blanco and Tirso Duarte have their finger closer to the pulse. With the former, Los Van Van's new generation are immensely talented, foremost of them Yenisel, Samuel and Mayito. But good though they are, it's difficult to see where the next spark of creative genius, with similar stature to that of Pupy, Changuito, and Juan Formell himself, will come from.

Samuel is now the beating heart of Los Van Van. Whereas his father led the band with his bass from the front, Samuel drives it from behind with his kit at the back. I'm not convinced that it is not without flaw. Juan was able to exercise leadership, engaging directly with the band to maximise emotional involvement, but I don't think Samuel can do that with: his kit as a barrier, limited lines of visual communication with much of the band, and playing everything that he currently plays. Giraldo Piloto of Klimax is the only other bandleader in my recent memory who's in a similar position.

Frankly, as a participant of songo myself, I understand how important the inclusion of the trapset is to timba. But I think now that the pendulum has swung too far and the trap-set under Samuel has fractured a former equilibrium; sidelining the conguero and sending the dedicated timbalero out into the wilderness.

Should Samuel decide to lead more on-stage, he might replace himself on trap-set and move to timbales plus kick-drum in the style of Changuito, and put himself towards the front like Tito Puente did. This would give himself less to play and more cognitive overhead to energise. But that's just conjecture on my part, so just give me a moment to kick myself for my presumptuousness... thud. Yeeouch!

However what I DO know objectively is that there are three main differences between the concert captured on DVD and this one at the Roundhouse: the presence of the old guard, the repertoire, and the sound quality. How the original timba supergroup navigate future waters, I'll study with close interest. Some clues can be had from the above, but it is in the subjective area of how they interact with each other and make good their commitment to their audience that will have me perched towards the edge of my seat.

Los Van Van's encore: "Esto te pone la cabeza mala"

I tell my masterclass attendees and drummers alike that, "artistic endeavour distinguishes itself from the mechanical through its ability, or more its necessity in evoking an emotional response."

Had they all unified in "unbearable purpose" (Eddie Palmieri) as I hear Los Van Van can, there might have burned a terrible joy. Instead I'm feeling a mild shade of blue.

There's nothing I wanted more to do here than to gush over their brilliance. They are, after all, Los Van Van.

Loo Yen Yeo